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VMware vClient to put bare-metal hypervisor on desktop

By porting a bare-metal hypervisor on desktops, VMware's new vClient initiative addresses the limitations of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure – as well as looming desktop virtualization competition from Microsoft.

LAS VEGAS -- On Tuesday, Sept. 16, at VMworld, Palo Alto, Calif.-based VMware Inc. plans to discuss its new vClient initiative for desktops that hinges on porting an old VMware standby – the ESX bare-metal hypervisor – to desktop- and laptop-class hardware.

Seemingly, vClient is a response to the limitations of VMware's previous vision for virtual desktops: Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), in which desktop operating systems run in a virtual machine (VM) on a server and are remotely displayed to a thin client. The VDI model has significant security, management and consolidation benefits over traditional desktop computing but is predicated on a device always being connected to the network.

It's been three years since VMware first announced VDI, and customers have offered up feedback. "They've have been telling us, 'I want to be able to run a single desktop image across all my desktops and laptops and manage it seamlessly with the same platform,' " said Jerry Chen, VMware senior director of desktop products. They "want all the goodness of virtualization" regardless of an end user's preferred hardware device, he added.

A universal client

It was something [VMware] needed to do soon, especially when you consider competitors like Microsoft.
Chris Wolfsenior analyst, Burton Group

Ergo, VMware's new View family of products will comprise its existing VDI products plus "bare-metal-client virtualization" that will run a VM on a end user-class device without installing an underlying host operating system, said Chen. Today, VMware client virtualization products such as VMware Workstation and Fusion run on top of an OS such as such as Microsoft Windows or Apple Macintosh.

With this notion of a "universal client," IT administrators can supply end users with VM-based operating environments, regardless of whether the end user works from a thin client, a full-fledged desktop, a laptop or, eventually, – a mobile platform like an Apple iPhone. "It's a great platform, and something we'd look at first," said Jeff Jennings, VMware vice president of desktops and solutions.

Also under the View umbrella, VMware will release View Manage (formerly Virtual Desktop Manager), which builds on security and policy capabilities found in today's Assured Computing Environment, or ACE, for example encryption, quarantines and VM expiration. And VMware Composer allows for rapid desktop provisioning based on VMware's new Linked Clones feature of its forthcoming Virtual Datacenter Operating System(VDC-OS). Other VMware initiatives include support for alternate remote display protocols from Hewlett-Packard (Remote Graphics Software, or RGS) and Sun Microsystems (Appliance Link Protocol, or ALP). Today, VMware supports only Microsoft's RDP.

For users working on higher-end laptops and desktops, VMware is also working to improve its three-dimensional graphics support. "We want to be able to virtualize the latest and greatest graphics chipsets," Chen said.

Burton Group analyst Chris Wolf said the vClient initiative holds water. "It was something they needed to do soon, especially when you consider competitors like Microsoft," he said. But VMware will be challenged to deliver the variety of device driver support necessary in the desktop world. "It would make sense for them to partner up with an OEM or an IHV," he said, to package View on a select group of certified devices.

VMware declined to name any specific hardware partners for its vClient news, although Dell, HP, IBM, Intel, NEC, Sun and Wyse Technology came out in support of the news. VMware promises to deliver View in 2009.

To return to our VMworld 2008 coverage, click here.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Alex Barrett, News Director. And check out our Server Virtualization blog.

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